The IDF Archive Reveals Secret Files From Operation Kadesh / The Sinai Campaign - on the Back of a Cigarette Box

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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Yossi Melman

"What you see is a copy - the original was on a cigarette box," Vice Premier Shimon Peres said this week of a document from the Israel Defense Force Archive relating to the Sinai Campaign. The document, a sketch by then chief of staff Moshe Dayan of the Sinai Peninsula, has three arrows indicating the advance of Israeli forces. It will be displayed this week on the Archive Web site ( to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Sinai Campaign.

The sketch bears the words: "The map, according to which planning was discussed at the next to last minute. Drawn by Moshe Dayan." Peres had then prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion sign it, and then signed it himself. It is dated October 24, 1956, six days before the war, which began with the parachuting of Israeli troops into the Mitla Pass, some 60 kilometers from the Suez Canal.

The sketch was made on the third and last day of what became known as the Sevres Conference, named after the villa and the Paris suburb where representatives of France, Great Britain and Israel met secretly to plan the war.

"The day before, Ben-Gurion presented us with 10 questions," Peres, who was then director general of the defense ministry, recalled. "He did not want us to appear as mercenaries. He was willing to cooperate on timing with the French and the English but not for us to appear as their collaborators. He therefore hesitated and wanted answers to these questions."

Peres said he and Dayan left the villa and worked all night at their hotel to prepare answers. "When we came back to the villa, we wanted to show Ben-Gurion a map of Sinai but there was none, so I pulled out the pack of Kent I was smoking and took out the silver foil and Dayan drew the map and the arrows on the other side ... The central arrow is as far as the Mitla. The plan was to parachute into the Mitla and from there to move backward to the border," Peres explained.

Peres says he gave the original document to the IDF Museum. Neither he nor Archive curator Michal Tzur knows what happened to it. Tzur says the document was transferred from the defense minister's offices in 1982.

It is one of a number of recently declassified documents grouped under the heading "Meetings of Officers with the Defense Minister."

One document describes a meeting, which took place on the evening of November 5, 1956. Dayan, Colonel Ariel Sharon, commander of the Paratroop Brigade, Maj. Gen. Haim Laskov, and the deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry, Yaakov Herzog, arrived separately at Ben-Gurion's apartment on Keren Kayemeth Street (now Ben-Gurion street) in Tel Aviv. They came to report the successful conclusion of the war to Ben-Gurion, who had taken ill. A cease-fire was being discussed in the United Nations and, in Israel, they were trying to figure out how to delay it to allow British and French forces to take control of the Suez Canal, as was decided at Sevres. Ben-Gurion's military secretary Nehemia Argov was present, as well as his secretary, Yitzhak Navon. Sharon came with his first wife Margalit.

"At 9:30 A.M. all units entered Sharm al-Sheikh, thus completing the conquest of Sinai," Dayan told to Ben-Gurion. "Among the prisoners is one Egyptian officer whom everyone is amazed at. He was also in Faluja [a 1948 battle site in the Negev - Y.M.]. He said this time it was no big deal, we did it with the French and the English. He was in the know and he knew Arik [Sharon] had parachuted."

Ben-Gurion was particularly interested in the place names and how to say them in Hebrew. "We'll finish with all those Arab names," the prime minister said. Despite his fever, Ben-Gurion was almost euphoric. "If we had had an army like this in 1948 we could have conquered all the Arab countries," he said. "Things have changed. Sinai is in our hands."

Ben-Gurion said Sinai "must be under Israeli control, the mail must be Israeli."

He proposed opening a sailing route for tourists from Eilat to Sharm al-Sheikh. "Masses of people will want to tour and will pay the asking price," he said.

Ben-Gurion asked Laskov, who fought on the Gaza-Rafa-El Arish line: "Aren't you satisfied?" To which Laskov replied, "there are many aspects to this business. The matter of looting. That's not good."

Ben-Gurion answered him: "What did they loot?" Laskov: "Rags, boxes of Polaris cigarettes, cookies,"

The oil fields at a-Tur in Sinai also came up that evening. "We could send the oil in ships to Haifa. We would be free of foreign [countries.] We have oil," Ben-Gurion said.